With my first Young Leaders of Tomorrow program behind me, I have to say that the most difficult part of this summer job, as a YLT Junior Facilitator, has been describing it to other people. Before coming to Hong Kong, I told my friends at Cambridge that I was going to do a “teaching job”, which raised a few eyebrows among my peers, most of whom were going into internships at investment banks and law firms. No doubt they thought – and I must admit to a certain extent so did I – that my non-corporate teaching experience would be limited to just that – teaching.
Two weeks in, I’d simulated micro-finance loans in rural India, experienced the life of the blind and the deaf, helped develop a formal proposal for an NGO that directly addresses global poverty, and confronted my own deepest fears and desires in front a group of teenagers. On multiple occasions I’ve shed tears out of sheer emotion. Honestly speaking, what I’ve learned by far outweighs what I’ve “taught.”
The facilitators’ collection of credentials at the Open Classroom – both Ivy League and Wall Street – is enough to dazzle anyone. I came into the job expecting to learn from my fellow facilitators, and they have not disappointed. What I had not expected, however, was what the students have taught me. One instance in particular springs to mind, where through mock college interviews, we were learning about the Inner Leader. We, the junior facilitators, started off by giving example interviews, which would help the students prepare for their own mock interviews later in the program.
There we were, with our impressive university experiences, in front of keen note-taking 16 year olds, talking about leadership as if we knew all the answers. Sure, because we’ve got a few years on the students, our verses were more polished. I’m not going to lie – the chorus of positive feedback was a delightful ego booster. Yet the closest I got to my own truth was probably when we watched the students in their own mock interviews.
The point was to get down to the core of your personality so that you could present your best self to college interviewers. The students were pushed to “remember your why” – in other words, to figure out what matters to them. As I watched them search for the words that would describe how they understood themselves and the world around them, I couldn’t help but wonder, were my “exemplary answers” true at all? If so, how long would they stay true? What exactly was my “why”?
The problems our students encountered were equally prevalent to me, although I was a good five years ahead of them. By observing these slightly younger versions of us, I realized that the same insecurities that had plagued me when I was 16 haven’t really disappeared. But I also learned how much I’ve changed. In our students, I saw much of the teenager I used to be, and I thought about the choices I’ve made since I was 16 to make me who I am now. This self-reflection inevitably led me to the next question – what’s next? Our students’ “why” was going to make them into confident young adults, around the corner from university. Where is my “why” going to take me?
Unfortunately I still don’t have the answer. The leadership program did not reveal that to me. Instead, the program made me realize that I have a “why”, and that I need to keep learning to pursue it. I now know that it’s a capacity I have inherently as a person. But I’m not entirely sure what it looks like… For now, in my head, it resembles an enormous whirlpool, ever changing and not a little terrifying. But maybe that’s OK, because I’m still learning. And that’s pretty much how I would describe this job – a program where I teach to learn.